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Posts Tagged ‘Ferrari’

Here we go again; summer’s here, the temperatures are sky high, there’s a long three week gap between races and Max Mosley and FOTA have gone quiet.

If a vacuum is created something will come along to fill it and in this case it is the Spanish sports paper AS claiming that Ferrari is set to announce its deal with Fernando Alonso at the Italian Grand Prix in September.

According to AS, Monza is where important Ferrari announcements are made (true up to a point) and the traditional end of season Ferrari celebration has been booked in for November at the Valencia circuit (the permanent one, not the F1 street track) in order to celebrate the arrival of the Spanish driver many in the team feel they should have hired in 2006.

“We are not going to waste our time commenting on speculation. Everyone should remember that Massa and Raikkonen have contracts which include 2010,” team spokesman Luca Colajanni is quoted as saying to Gazzetta dello Sport.

I’ve posted on this before, if anyone wants to look back it was during Monaco weekend and just after Christmas last year. Alonso is a Ferrari driver, the deal is done and it is looking increasingly possible that he will drive in 2010 rather than 2011. Who knows whether they will announce it at Monza, but the story fills the news vacuum at the moment.

What I will say is that back in 1995 there were many rumours that Michael Schumacher was going to be announced as a Ferrari driver. The Ferrari press office issued a press release on 20th June which said,

“Ferrari would like to express, for the umpteenth time and with maximum clarity that all stories relating to negotiations with the driver Michael Schumacher are totally false.”

A few weeks later FIAT patriarch Gianni Agnelli announced the signing of Schumacher and new era began.

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Ferrari and FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo has gone on the media offensive in the past 24 hours, putting out some messages, not in response to FIA president Max Mosley’s complaints about FOTA’s behaviour, but stating his own case. He calls for an end to ‘polemics’ in F1.
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There is no hint of apology in his statements, nor a response to Mosley’s claims that the breakaway could still be on. There is only a clear reaffirmation of the principles on which FOTA negotiated the deal on Wednesday.

FOTA are very keen to show that they put the fans’ interests at the top of the agenda and so Montezemolo answered a range of questions from fans on the Ferrari website: “What I can guarantee you is that Ferrari and FOTA are busy to keep the spirit and the essence of F1 alive, constantly listening to our fans,” he said. “As far as the tracks are concerned where the races are held, the historical ones have always had a great fascination; for Ferrari and for all the other teams it will be important to get back to North America. ”

“One of the main engagements of FOTA is to reduce costs to get to the level of the early 1990s in the next two years without losing the technological and sporting challenge of the highest level.”

Montezemolo also gave a global overview of the week’s achievements,
“First of all, I think that what we have obtained are three very important elements – stability, less costs – it means coming back to the level of the costs of the 1990s and also that F1, which is far more important, will remain F1 and does not become F3. This is crucial for us.

“Of course we have to improve everything and this is why we want to be more involved in the decisions of the sport, because we want more spectators in the circuits, tickets less expensive because today the tickets are too expensive, and to have more show.

“Maybe the possibility to have some teams or all the teams to run even a third car, to have more possibility to overtake – but increasing technology research, extreme performance and overall competition.”

“Now, stop with all the polemics, because we love F1. We don’t want to contribute to … take off the big charm and the unique elements of F1.”

The idea of a third car was mooted in Bologna on Wednesday and the name of Valentino Rossi was mentioned. Rossi said yesterday that he was interested in the proposal, when his contract with Yamaha is up at the of 2010.

Incidentally, I asked yesterday whether Ferrari still has the right of veto over rule changes and the answer is “yes”. The agreement is still in place. Ferrari had launched an arbitration in Lausanne to attempt to prove that the FIA had breached the agreement and so Ferrari were not bound by it. But now that the conditions have changed, they have stopped that arbitration and view the agreement as still being in place, which means they still have the veto right.

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I have a feeling that the end is in sight in the battle between the FIA and FOTA. I’ve spent the day on the phone to many of the interested parties and read the statements issued by the FIA. It looks like Friday will be put-up or shut-up day.

The first statement this morning was about the negotiations over how budget restrictions are controlled and this stated that the negotiations were now over, the budget cap stays.

Later on the FIA put out a long document recounting the history, as they see it, of this process and of FOTA’s conduct through the process.

The FIA document suggested that FOTA, Ferrari and in particular its president Luca di Montezemolo have been obstructive all along. Although there is no official response to this, the word I’m getting is that the teams feel there are some misleading statements in here.

“The FIA and FOM have together spent decades building the FIA Formula One World Championship into the most watched motor sport competition in history,” says the document.

“In light of the success of the FIA’s Championship, FOTA – made up of participants who come and go as it suits them – has set itself two clear objectives: to take over the regulation of Formula One from the FIA and to expropriate the commercial rights for itself. These are not objectives which the FIA can accept.”

Ferrari would argue that they have created the history, but this sentence isn’t aimed at them. A bit further on there is a memorable sentence which is, “Good governance does not mean that Ferrari should govern.” As a sentence that is almost Obama-esque in its balance, but the meaning is one sided.

It goes on, “Ferrari now claim that the procedures followed by the FIA are contrary to their agreement with the FIA, but in reality they never objected to these procedures (indeed they voted for them) until they were not happy with the decisions themselves. Ferrari has been officially (as well as unofficially) represented on the WMSC since 1981 and never objected to the process or decisions until April and May this year.”

Attached to the statement is a raft of correspondence. There is a letter from Mosley to Montezemolo dated 26th May which indicates that the FIA would accept a budget cap of €100 million ‘but we must have a cap’ and we must have certainty’, writes Mosley.

For 2011 Mosley suggests a cap of €40 or €45 million. He offers to drop the two tier rules and the technical advantages originally offered to the budget capped teams, if the teams will engage in an exchange of know-how with the new entrants for 2010 and ‘possibly’ 2011.

I seems to me now that the talking has stopped. After the finance meeting on Monday, the FIA’s Tony Purnell is reported to have said that the parties would meet again on Wednesday or latest Thursday. But now no meeting will take place.

The time is fast approaching for the five teams, whose entry in conditional, to either enter the championship or go off and start their own series. Of those five, Brawn GP and McLaren are under the most pressure. Surely they will have to think very seriously about the wisdom of not entering, while the other three manufacturer teams, Toyota, Renault and BMW would have to either do a dramatic U turn or leave the sport. Many people in F1 circles believe that this is Mosley’s agenda. If that were to happen then there would be spaces for Prodrive and two other new teams.

The alternative for the five teams would be to start a breakaway and hope that Ferrari won its legal battle with the FIA and FOM. That could take months to resolve and it would be hard to plan a breakaway without knowing that Ferrari was definitely part of it.

The FIA believes it has Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso under contract, the same contract as it has Force India and Williams under. I’ve spoken to Williams’ Adam Parr on this, he is a barrister and he says the contract is watertight, which is why they have entered. Ferrari say it isn’t because the FIA breached it when drawing up the 2010 rules.

Red Bull and Toro Rosso have stayed in the FOTA camp this long so as to be able to see the whole picture and have put their name to every letter and statement, but Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has always been close to Mosley and despite protestations from the Red Bull team, I wonder whether they will sign up on Friday, as racing is all those two teams exist for.

The end is nigh…as those men with sandwich boards are wont to say and it looks like it’s heading for the worst outcome.

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Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo made a high-profile visit to the Le Mans 24 hours today and was the official starter of the event.

His visit had been planned for some time and was highly symbolic; the Le Mans 24 hours is not sanctioned by the FIA and with the fall out over Formula 1 entries for 2010 Montezemolo was keen to show that there is life beyond the current set up in F1.

FOTA has made it clear in the last 24 hours that it wants to see reform of the way in the FIA is run and is urging the body to act against it’s president Max Mosley. Failing that, he made it clear that a breakaway remains an option.

“Everybody sees what is happening in Formula 1. I do not understand the reason,” he said. “Anyway I think our conditions are constructive, are very clear: governance, stable rules – the people don’t understand any more rules that change every six months, one day it’s KERS, another day it’s standard engines – and looking ahead to have a balance between cost and revenues, to let new commerce enter.

“I’m very pleased to have new teams, and when I say teams I mean Formula 1 not Formula 3.

“I don’t think it is possible to compete at the maximum level, I mean to try to win in too many series. I think there is Formula 1, there is racing like Le Mans, and racing in the United States which is extremely challenging – as I mentioned before, Indy or something like this.

“Our intention is to continue to participate in Formula 1 if there are the conditions. If not, as I say to our tifosi all around the world who have been in touch with us on our internet in an unbelievable way, the DNA of Ferrari is competition. If we stop in F1 we will do something else, and for sure Le Mans will be one of our first priorities.”

“There is a historical connection between Ferrari and the 24 Hours and I am glad to be here to start one of the races of which I admire the spirit of competition you can feel here,” Montezemolo said. “We have many things in common; for example the connection to the terroir: I can see the people living here and they are happy and proud to host this great event and collaborate to set it up, just like it happens at Maranello. It’s true that many years have passed since the last overall win of a Ferrari in this race and I have a dream, which is also a wish, to see sooner or later an official car starting in the race.”

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The entry list for 2010 published today has aroused a reaction of disappointment and defiance from Ferrari.
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The Scuderia issued a strongly worded statement soon after the FIA announcement. This indicates that they knew what was coming.

“Ferrari shall not take part in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship until the conditions of its entry are satisfied,” said the opening line.

It went on, “Ferrari submitted on 29 May 2009 an entry to the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship which is subject to certain conditions. As of today, these conditions have not been met.

“Despite Ferrari’s previous written notice to the FIA not to do so, the FIA has included Ferrari as a unconditional participant in next year’s Formula One World Championship.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, Ferrari reaffirms that it shall not take part in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship under the regulations adopted by the FIA in violation of Ferrari’s rights under a written agreement with the FIA.”

The FIA statement does not state under what terms Ferrari is entered in next year’s championship. Although the statement also makes no mention of what conditions Williams, Force India and the three new teams are entered under, it is known to be the £40m million budget cap rules.

As part of FOTA’s conditional entry they want the 2009 rules to be applied, so presumably the FIA is taking their entry on that basis, which means a two tier system. The latest thinking on that is that instead of the budget capped teams having technical advantages like more engine revs, they will benefit from technical help from the big teams, but these discussions are far from conclusive.

What is even more interesting about Ferrari’s position now is that they are not part of the ongoing negotiations, in the FIA’s eyes. The entry list talks about further negotiations until June 19th, with the five FOTA teams whose entry it still considers provisional, namely McLaren, Brawn, Toyota, BMW and Renault. But Ferrari is not part of that process.

It seems therefore, that Ferrari’s only option is to take the matter to court, to discover whether or not the agreement it signed with the FIA and with FOM in 2005 is still legally binding. Ferrari say that they have taken extensive legal advice and the contract has been breached by the FIA, because they did not allow Ferrari a right of veto. The FIA has also take legal advice which says the opposite.

Anything can happen once you get something like this into a court room, however.

Ferrari are adamant that their position is exactly as it has been since its board of directors made its statement on May 12th threatening to withdraw unless the budget cap rules package was dropped. This is not a bluff, they insist.

I expected them to be angry about what the FIA has done, here but they are not. They are disappointed, but they are not budging in their convictions nor in their path. So the positions are fairly entrenched now and it will either take a legal battle or a piece of mediation on a spectacular scale to sort this out.

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McLaren may have topped the times this afternoon in Istanbul, but Ross Brawn, who has been quite vocal in the run up to this weekend’s race, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he thinks the steps Ferrari has brought to its car will be enough for them to give Brawn a real run for their money this weekend,

“I think so, ” he said. “They have improved so much and on top of that they have KERS, which on this track is probably worth an advantage of 2 to 3 tenths of a second. It took them a while to get it all together, but now the car is reliable and they are reaping the rewards.”
"Keep an eye out for the red ones, lad"

According to Felipe Massa, the team has a lighter weight diffuser, a new rear wing, new brake ducts and new wheel covers.

Brawn, incidentally, went on to tell Gazzetta that his current team is, “The best team I have ever worked with, there is an incredible bond between us.”

Ross isn’t given to making statements like that lightly. People are always trying to tempt him into making comparisons and he rarely bites.

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Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix saw confirmation that Ferrari are back in business. Kimi Raikkonen qualified within hundredths of a second of Jenson Button with only two laps less fuel on board and in the race the Scuderia got its first double points haul of the season, with Raikkonen third and Felipe Massa fourth.

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On top of that, Massa set the fastest race lap, with 1min 15.154, four hundredths of a second faster than Jenson Button’s fastest lap in the Brawn and two tenths faster than the Red Bull of Mark Webber.

It is tempting to say that Ferrari has now moved into position as the second best car in the field, ahead of the Red Bull, but I’m not sure that will be the case everywhere, particularly the next two races in Turkey and Silverstone where the Red Bull will stretch its legs on the long fast corners.

But there is no doubt that Ferrari has made the most progress of any team since the start of the season. They have also got on top of the reliability issues which cost them at the start of the season. It is too early to say whether they have completely fixed their operational problems, because it was only the last race in Spain where they misjudged qualifying with Raikkonen’s car.

But the management changes they made after the first couple of races, where Luca Baldisseri was moved back to a factory based position, to improve the links between the R&D and manufacturing departments at base and the race team on the road, seem to be working.

It looks like it is too late to have any effect on the world championship, with both Ferrari drivers over 40 points behind Jenson Button. But it will certainly put more than a veneer of respectability on their 2009 campaign.

Team boss Stefano Domenicali was moderately pleased with progress, “At least two cars scored points, that was a very important step. For me the most important thing is that we show that the people at home the team is totally committed to the job. It is not easy at this moment when you hear all around that to cut dramatically and that we can lose hundreds of places of work. So that is why it is important to thank the people at home that have worked flat out to recover the performance. We have showed in Spain and again here that what we are doing is going in the right direction. We need to stay focussed on our job and that in Turkey we need to improve again.”

Stefano’s point about the motivation of the staff at the factory is a good one. It’s a bit like the people at Honda over the winter, working flat out with deep concerns that they were perhaps a day away from being made redundant. Not being forced into a dramatic cull of staff in one go is one point on which all the teams are agreed.

Asked where the Ferrari is still lacking speed Stefano said, “I think downforce is the most important thing that we need to recover. This will help a lot in high speed corners. In Turkey we will have another step. We are pretty sure that our competitors will do a step again.”

Felipe Massa agreed with his boss’ assessment, “I think we are still missing a little bit of downforce. So we are still missing slightly a little bit of grip on the car. So, for me they have a little bit more grip than us, and they can work a little bit better on the tyres, so they can work a little bit better on the qualifying to prepare the car in the right way.

“Sometimes in the race we show a great pace, in the conditions you fight, but we are still missing a little bit more downforce and a bit of grip. We need to use better the tyres, especially in qualifying, and also when it is necessary.

“I think maybe we need a couple of races to be sure that we are the second strongest team. For the moment I think it is too early to say – Red Bull sometimes they are very, very strong and sometimes they are a little bit less.”

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